A jellyfish sting in 1990 nearly cost Nancy Garrison her life. Yet the incident not only ended in Nancy’s healing, but in the saving and healing of many more lives as well.
Nancy and her husband, Glenn, had served as Assemblies of God World Missions missionaries to Taiwan from 1984-1988, where they pioneered Agape International Christian Assembly (now pastored by Ty and Cina Silva) in Taipei. As the church grew, several hundred Filipinos began to regularly attend, and soon the Garrisons were asked by AGWM leadership to consider working with a Chinese/Filipino church in Cebu, Philippines.
Glenn and Nancy accepted the new assignment and in 1989 transitioned to Cebu, although they still believed they would return to Taiwan. Once there, a great deal of the Garrisons’ ministry was on behalf of children living on the streets.
As their ministry was beginning to take off, the jellyfish attack occurred. Nancy was wading at a nearby beach when she was stung. After three weeks in a Cebu hospital, she was rushed to the United States for additional treatment, where she and Glenn sought God for the next step in their ministry. As they prayed, they felt a confirmation from the Lord that they were to stay in the Philippines. They sensed God wanted them to continue their ministry to kids living on the street.
At that point, Glenn and Nancy say, they began to understand that Filipino street kids were largely untouched by the message of Jesus and without adequate witness or resources.
By 1994, the Garrisons received permission to rent land in the Filipino countryside to begin Happy Horizons Ranch (HHR) — an aftercare home for homeless, abused and traumatized children. Over time, a new need became very evident, and shifted the ranch’s focus and function.
“We made a switch in 2015,” Glenn and Nancy say. “Working with boys, we soon learned they have a lot more resources and opportunities to receive help. Girls, however, are often kept hidden and harder to reach.” Happy Horizons now owns 20 acres of land, is a fully accredited NGO in the Philippines, and functions as an aftercare facility for girls only.
The Garrisons further explain that very few organizations offer long-term help to girls. Yet the need is massive. Many Filipino mothers and other caregivers are gone — they are working out of the country and sending money home to dependents. Young girls are often left in the care of grandparents, or required to care for other children. Many are undefended, causing abuse rates to sky rocket.
Additionally, child pornography and sexual abuse have become a billion-dollar industry. In rural villages, up to 50 percent of the population is under 14 years of age. Predators persuade poor villagers to betray their own children.
“Girls destroyed by ritual abuse require lots of care, and professional, one-on-one counseling,” Glenn says. “We also have a safe house in the city of Cebu where girls can stay for a month or two before moving to the ranch. It takes incredible commitment to partner long-term with these girls, walking them through to wholeness in Jesus.”
Redeemed to Redeem
Amy is just one of more than 200 Filipinos who work with and advocate for residents of HHR. A recent law school graduate, Amy is preparing for the bar exam and will serve as a litigator on behalf of victimized girls.
Amy deeply understands the plight of HHR residents. She was 15 years old when she was molested by a close male relative and became pregnant. Initially taken in by an unwed mothers’ group, Amy eventually came to live at HHR. She was restored by Jesus, became part of the school (complete with an accelerated Christian education program) that is built into HHR, graduated, and went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in political science before pursuing her law degree.
Many graduates of HHR have become pastors, teachers, government employees, and business leaders. Graduates have rallied together to form Alumni in Defense. Members go into communities targeted by predators and establish feeding programs and offer church involvement to help at-risk girls become safely established at HHR.
Additionally, the ranch’s board and staff is comprised of pastors, educators, businesspeople, lawyers, a social worker, and a nurse.
Nancy says, “Pray that these workers will be able to stay strong and have favor with the government. Getting through the legal system in defense of the girls can take years. We partner with International Justice Mission, who supply lawyers to represent the girls, and we work with the Philippines’ version of the FBI. But girls often have to repeat their traumatic stories in very difficult circumstances. Soon Amy will be overseeing this legal process. Please pray for her, and for our other staff.”
Ministers Never Lose the Call
“Filipinos are incredibly giving and loving people,” Glenn says. “Amid all the trauma, including serious problems caused by radical Islamic groups, we are seeing revival. There are tremendous opportunities for evangelism across the nation, and the need remains for ministry to children (and even entire families) living on the streets.”
Happy Horizons’ ministry partners now include One Child Matters (formerly Mission of Mercy) and Convoy of Hope. With Convoy, the Garrisons have ministered in disaster relief (no small task for an island nation located in the Pacific’s infamous Ring of Fire) and coordinated a feeding program that serves 5,000 children every day. They have also participated in numerous other community outreaches.
Though they still serve on the board of HHR, in February 2018 the Garrisons turned leadership of the ranch over to John and Kelli Willaford — who had served as the Garrisons’ missionary associates for nearly a decade.
“With the Lord’s help and guidance, the Garrisons have built an incredibly effective and efficient ministry,” says John Willaford. “We are grateful for their wisdom and foresight in planning and building, and for their trust and the incredible opportunity to keep HHR moving forward.”
Glenn and Nancy officially retired in March 2019.
“Now is our time to be influencers, advisors and cheerleaders. Ministers never lose the call,” Glenn concludes. “Nancy and I feel that passion just as strongly as we did before. We have simply followed God’s call.”